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Wednesday, 11 April, 2007

A journey on frozen river

KARGIL, Apr 10:With the melting of 157-km- long frozen surface of river ‘‘Chadar" following improvement in the weather, the people in Zanaskar remained cut off with the rest of the world.

"We use the frozen surface of the river to reach Leh after covering the 157-long distance in five days," a resident of the Zanaskar Ghulam Rasool said.

However, on some occasions it takes more than a week or two, depending upon the weather, as the surface gets frozen only when the temperature dips to minus six to ten degrees, he said.

Ghulam Rasool said the main 332-km-long Kargil-Zanaskar road gets closed in November every year due to 15 to 20 feet snow and reopens only in the last week of May.

Along with five other residents of Zanaskar, I arrived at Leh in the first week of February through the frozen river,’’ he said adding "it was very risky too. We had no alternative but to use the river to Leh," he added.

However, he said, the authorities have decided to operate M-17 Indian Airforce Helicopter between Zanaskar and Leh and Kargil on every Thursday. But, he said, due to bad weather the service mostly remained suspended.

Sharing his experience about the journey on foot on frozen surface, he said, "five others and I left Zanaskar for Leh through the frozen river. However, when we had completed two-thirds of the journey, suddenly the frozen surface melted," he said adding "we had to wait for three days till it got frozen again."

Mostly people leave Zanaskar or Leh in groups with a stock of eatables for ten to 15 days. There are natural caves on the banks of the river which are being used for night halt, he said adding "on some occasions we have to remain in caves till the surface refreezes again."

Ghulam Rasool said he could not undertake the return journey through the river in the second week of last month as the frozen surface had melted following improvement in the weather.

He said there is not a single village on the bank of the river.

Official sources said that there are 60 Zanaskar bound passengers stranded at Kargil since March 25. Similarly another 40 are stranded at Leh.

They said 30 passengers, including students and a businessman are stranded at Zanaskar.

The 332-km-long Kargil-Zanaskar road remained under 15 to 20 feet snow during the winter. However, authorities had stored essential commodities, including rice, atta, sugar, kerosene oil, medicines and gas cylinders at Zanaskar before the road was closed on November 27 last year due to snowfall.

The Executive Councilor of Hill Development Council, Tourism P Namgyal said a helicopter service has been arranged for stranded passengers. However, it depends upon the weather condition.

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